Baffled by Battle’s place in pecking order for Epsom

Here’s one who is a big fan of Battle Of Marengo and, right now, would not want to be on any other horse for the Epsom Derby.

Baffled by Battle’s place in pecking order for Epsom

It is a little surprising that he continues to be only the third choice of the Ballydoyle candidates, behind Kingbarns and Mars in the ante-post lists.

We have to accept that Kingsbarns is potentially a brilliant horse, but currently under something of a cloud and that has to be very much factored in.

The fact that the other Ballydoyle horse, Mars, is shorter than Battle Of Marengo is hard enough to fathom.

Battle Of Marengo is a tough warrior, with five races under his belt and the winner of his last four.

In contrast, Mars has only run once, admittedly looking most impressive when taking a modest contest on the all-weather at Dundalk last season.

There is so much to like about Battle Of Marengo, not least his willingness to dig down deep when the need is greatest.

We know, from listening to Aidan O’Brien, that he wants good ground to be seen at his best. But it is his capacity, at least thus far, to handle all sorts of surfaces that has been so taking.

He made his seasonal debut in Sunday’s Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown, ignoring deep ground, as he easily beat mud-lark Sugar Boy.

The son of Galileo did the same at the back-end of last season, ploughing through a heavy surface to win the Group 2 Beresford Stakes.

You can argue, however, that his best performance came when meeting a fast surface at Leopardstown in September.

His saddle slipped after a furlong and, despite Joseph O’Brien being unable to give him as much assistance as he would have liked, he cruised to victory. At the moment Battle Of Marengo shapes like a workmanlike colt and has yet to post a display calculated to get punters overly excited.

But he’s a particularly solid horse and the fact he now heads to the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, back at Leopardstown on May 12, tells us plenty.

That was the path taken by two of Ballydoyle’s previous Epsom Derby heroes, Galileo and High Chaparral.

There are lots of trials to come over the next few weeks and being too dogmatic as to the likely outcome of the Derby right now would be silly.

What we can say, though, with some certainty, is Battle Of Marengo is the yardstick by which others have to be measured, as we count down to the June 1 spectacular.

There are two horses of late that have more than showcased the talents of Aidan O’Brien: El Salvador and Justification.

El Salvador looked ordinary when getting beaten in his two races as a juvenile, but this season has looked an entirely different horse.

He won his first two outings, on the all-weather at Dundalk, so there was merit in thinking that good ground was the key to him.

But then he bolted home, on heavy ground, at Limerick nine days ago. He had fitness on his side, but it was still a fair effort to beat Dermot Weld’s Voleuse De Coeurs so decisively, considering that mare was 14lbs well in.

The handicapper’s reaction was to raise El Salvador by 9lbs, which was far from draconian.

O’Brien’s handling of Justification has been just as good. This is a horse, now a five-year-old, who has had more than his share of problems.

He ran once as a two-year-old, twice as a three-year-old and only once last season.

That latest effort saw him finish fifth of seven in a moderate event at Wexford in August.

But, at Leopardstown last Sunday, Justification (5-2 fav) landed some decent wagers when coming from off the pace to score by three parts of a length. He goes up by 8lbs in the future.

We know the betting ring is in a bad way, but the figures from the recent Sunday meeting at Limerick, April 7, still make for alarming reading.

Feature event that day was a Grade 2 chase, worth €24,375 to the winner. Fivehorses were due to face the starter, but the ground was on the quick side and so two of them, Tofino Bay and Vesper Bell, swerved the assignment.

That left Tom Taaffe’s Argocat looking something of a good thing to beat Noras Fancy and Imperial Shabra.

In the not too distant past the solid punters, at the upper end of the scale, would have smelt blood and ripped into Argocat at the 1-2 on offer.

But those punters - what’s left of them - were sitting at home in front of their computers, in a world that has changed so dramatically - and not for the better.

So what did the bookmakers hold on the contest? Between them it came to a paltry €2,495.

Unbelievably, the Tote did better, handling €3,129. It simply sums up what the exchanges have done to racing in both Britain and Ireland.

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